Trinidad & Tobago's International Soca Monarch competition is cancelled, and Carnival lovers are either shattered or unfazed

The International Soca Monarch competition, a decades-long fixture of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, has been cancelled for 2023. Feature image created using Canva Pro elements.

After much online discussion over whether the International Soca Monarch (ISM) competition, a fixture on Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival calendar for the past three decades, would be held in 2023 — the first in-person festival in two years — its organisers announced on January 26 that they were cancelling the event.

Prior to the revelation, speculation had been rife over whether or not the show would proceed, given that soca star Machel Montano had announced the date of his own concert, always one of the hottest tickets in town, as “Fantastic Friday,” the Friday before Carnival, a slot traditionally claimed by ISM.

However, Geoffrey Wharton-Lake and Ricky Ragoonanan, directors of Caribbean Prestige Foundation which organises and promotes ISM, cited financial constraints as the reason for the cancellation. Ragoonanan went a step further and accused the government of “killing the culture” by offering less monetary support than was required for proper staging of the competition, which he claimed was “the only stepping stone for new artistes.” The duo said that the prize money alone would have required an investment of TTD 2.5 million (just under USD 369,000).

However, the competition did not start off with government assistance. On the contrary, it was conceived as a revenue-generating, private-sector event, and only began attracting state support in its later iterations. The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper subsequently reported that the ISM promoters had asked for TTD 10 million (just shy of USD 1.5 million) from the government. Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell said of the request, “It is unconscionable for the government to underwrite the full cost of an event that is privately owned.” Instead, the government offered a subvention of TTD 3 million (just over USD 442,000), with Minister Mitchell making the point that the government “could never be accused of failing to support any aspect of our culture, especially during the Carnival season.”

Reactions on social media ran the gamut from dismay to disinterest. Many Carnival and soca music enthusiasts were sorely disappointed at the news:

On the flip side of the coin, the organisers of the event came under heavy fire for what was being interpreted as poor stewardship. One Twitter user commented:

On Facebook, photographer David Wears chimed in:

So the organizers of #ISM NOWWW going to meet with other stakeholders to talk about #InternationalSocaMonarch future?!? You had TWO YEARS!!!

In a follow-up post, he added:

Trinbago government was providing #ISM with an assistance of $3 million, but they wanted $10. Allyuh didn't want assistance, allyuh wanted them pay for de ting!

Another Twitter user added:

Facebook user Rishi Harrynanan bluntly quipped:

If your event depends on the Government (Taxpayers) to go on, then it should be canceled.

Many netizens claimed they had seen the writing on the wall for some time. Indeed, seven years ago, in January 2016, dancer and choreographer Abeo Jackson called out the ISM, and similar Carnival, calypso and soca competitions, for purporting to be “incubators for developing artists and their craft”:

These mega competitions should be having workshops year round facilitated by professionals and teachers in the field. […]

What you then do is make it mandatory for artists to attend a certain amount of these workshops to even be considered as an entrant in the seasonal competition. Force them to do the work!!! They must. […] That is how you ensure that the craft is honed and that your mega competition adds value to the sustainably and credibility of an art form.
That is how you uphold your cultural and creative responsibility. Otherwise you continue to perpetuate creative and artistic disrespect and the eroding of our cultural identity.

Meanwhile, some social media users refused to discount the impact that the Machel Montano concert could potentially have made on the decision, to which this Twitter user responded:

Simon Baptiste, who was creative director of the event for two consecutive years, added:

Soca Monarch is dead!
That’s the vitriolic cry that can be seen and heard around social media.
The truth is, Soca Monarch has been on life support for many years now… but it isn’t dead. […] If anything kills Soca Monarch, I do want you to know one thing… it will not be because of Machel. [I]f Soca Monarch was still drawing tens of thousands, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

While some ISM stalwarts grew maudlin, posting their favourite memories from the event, throwbacks to its heyday when soca stars like Super Blue ruled, Trinbagonian comedian Nikki Crosby had the last word:

I am a soca monarch baby❤️ I think I've always been there. Never missed one, whether performing, hosting, supporting […]

We love to blame and trust me there is a lot to go around, and it hurts me to know it is canceled.💔 It's the only forum that many young artists get to perform and show their talents. Yes they need to improve […] So many suggestions, [but] I ain't come here for dat.

I hope that the carnival share holders and corporate and private Trinidad can come together to save Soca Monarch […] hopefully in the future, we could get back to putting on a hell of a show.

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